italian herb garden
Garlic is a perennial herb with a bulb which is split into segments (Known as cloves), basal linear leaves and an erect stalk terminated by an umbel with numerous small bulbils between the purplish-white flowers. The flower cluster is encircled by a sheath (spathe) of papery bracts. The fruit is a capsule with black seeds; the seeds do not ripen in cultivated plants.
Surrounded by myth and legend, garlic is truly one of the oldest herbs, believed to have originated in Central Asia. It was used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans to give vitality and stamina and it is still one of the world’s most useful culinary and medicinal plants.
Garlic has long been planted as a crucial vegetable, seasoning and medicinal herb.
Garlic’s name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon term garleac, from gar (= a spear) and leac (= a leek), supposedly meaning ‘a leek with cloves like spearheads’.
Garlic is a wonderful plant that played as great an role in the ancient spice trade as it does right now. Whether you like it or otherwise, there’s no escaping this useful herb.
ALWAYS CONSULT A MEDICAL EXPERT BEFORE BEGINNING A HOME TREATMENT; THE INFORMATION IN THIS ARTICLE IS IN NO WAY INTENDED TO REPLACE YOUR DOCTOR’S PROFESSIONAL ADVICE.
- Garlic is a powerful medicinal herb with extraordinary antibiotic qualities. The bulb is used medicinally, either fresh, dried or otherwise prepared. It includes essential oils and iodine.
- It is a blood tonic and has strong antiviral properties.
- If taken routinely it will remove harmful build up within the blood, kidneys and liver.
- Under medical supervision it can be used to bring down high cholesterol and ease high blood pressure.
- It is an energizing cleanser, tonic and energizer – its hypotensive and cardiovascular activitv has been well investigated as has its antiseptic and expectorant effect on the entire respiratory system.
- It is used to deal with intestinal illness, hypertension and arteriosclerosis, and it helps digestion by stimulating bile secretions.
- Externally Garlic can be applied to insect bites, boils and unbroken chilblains, but it may cause an allergic rash if used for too long.
- Garlic has certainly come of age worldwide; once regarded as a smelly European ingredient it is now in demand in many countries and for a wide variety of foods. The phenomenal popularity in the last decades of Italian cuisine is possibly the single most significant reason for the renewed superstar status of garlic
- Chewing a leaf of basil, mint, parsley or thyme helps to cleanse the breath after eating garlic.
Propagation and harvesting
Breeding and selection has yielded countless types, which are propagated by planting the cloves in rows in prepared ground.
Autumn is the right time to plant garlic. Plant individual cloves 5-7cm apart in shallow trenches in well dug, richly composted soil and full sun.
When planting garlic make certain that the pointed end faces up.
Water your plants two or three times a week in hot weather conditions.
Your garlic is ready to harvest once the flat long leaves start to turn pale and papery. Tie the bulbs in bunches and suspend them in an airy structure to dry and develop the rich, pungent flavour that garlic is popular for.
Flowering time: July to September.(Northern Hemisphere)
- Parsley performs very well indeed when raised close to garlic and it is employed to clear the breath of garlic’s strong sulphur compounds.
- Additional excellent companion plants are beetroot, orange and lemon trees, lettuce, roses and even tomatoes.
- Grown around citrus fruit trees garlic forms an excellent barrier against caterpillars, borers and cutworms and aids in inhibiting leaf curl.
- It improves the taste of cherry tomatoes grown nearby and keep beetles and grasshoppers to a minimum.
- Do not plant garlic in near proximity to cabbages, beans, peas, strawberries or broccoli because they will not do well next to garlic.
Elsewhere in these pages I wrote about an Italian herb garden and its primary residents of garlic, oregano, basil, parsley and rosemary. I have now learned that the article was only partly correct and that sometimes no amount of book learning prepares you for the real thing. Read on…….
Recently I sat down to some mid-morning espresso with 2 couples, both Italian and all 4 from different regions in Italy. The subject of a typical Italian herb garden was broached. Well, if you are Italian you will know what I mean when I say that suddenly there were four separate conversations all going staccato and fortissimo.
Special and vociferous mention was given by various parties to sage, thyme, bay, chervil and even horseradish (Leaves and roots) as being essentials in an Italian herb garden. Many more entered the fray but fell in the heat of battle. Some small concessions are suspected but not admitted for this passage of arms. Both tactics and strategy waxed and waned throughout the skirmish.
The most amazing thing was that they all agreed that the basic five above were all essential staples; amazing because from there the opinions varied and got louder until I called a truce.
Married for 38 and 35 years respectively, I thought the day of their marriages being ripped asunder was at hand. Not a chance, as it turned out, they were just having some fun
When things spun down back to normal, the previous status quo was soon resumed and another – and less important - topic was being calmly pursued, I realised that something that I always knew had been reinforced:
- Italians are passionate about their food and their regions of origin.
- There are many more popular Italian herbs used in the typical Italian herb garden than most non-Italians are aware of.
- Don’t think that an altercation between an Italian couple has any real malice.
- Italians revel in argument and bring their own breed of passion and energy to the table.
By heck, I love these people. They are both down to earth and earthy. They bring with them the tastes, sounds and smells of Italy to any group, which immediately benefits by elevation through these wonderful influences and nuances. Italian cuisine and the traditional Italian herb garden is safe in these hands. Viva Italia!
And take my word for it – don’t ever try to tell an Italian what he or she should be growing in their Italian herb garden!
Appearance: Sweet basil bears tiny, white, purple—tinged flowers in midsummer and juicy aromatic leaves. A healthy plant reaches about 30 cms (1 ft) in height with good foliage. ‘Dark Opal’ has a gingery aroma, and when used shredded in salads adds a decorative air and exotic flavour.
Description: A tender herb, several types of which are in cultivation. The large leaved, common or sweet basil, Ocymum barilicum, is the plant to choose for the kitchen with its strong, spicy, clove—like aroma. Dwarf or bush basil, O. minimum, is hardier but has a weaker flavour.
Usage: Companion plant to tomatoes, peppers and squashes and essential in a classic Italian tomato sauce accompanying pasta.
History: An ancient plant from the Pacific Islands which reached England via Asia and Europe in the sixteenth century, and was taken by early settlers to America.
Cultivation: In zones with a cold winter, sow basil in early to mid—spring in boxes or in frames, or later out of doors after all danger of frost has passed. Start the seedlings off in an environment with good protection and temperature until they can be hardened off and planted out safely.
In warmer zones, sow directly into beds – thereafter thin out to about 20 cms (8 ins) apart or transplant. Basil seedlings transplant easily. A plant can be potted up and kept indoors to maintain a fresh supply of leaves until late fall, or be grown indoors in a spot affording at least five hours of sunshine daily. A good patio or window—box plant which enjoys a sunny outdoor environment.
Do not plant near Rue, Basil and Rue seem to repel one another.
Other uses: As a fixative in potpourri’s, used in bowls or bunches to repel insects indoors. (Bruise leaves occasionally ) Basil is both an antiseptic and tonic as well as being beneficial when rubbed on the temple for a headache.
Harvesting: Leaves are best picked young. Mine seem to do better the more often I pick leaves off.
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